Bicycle Thief

Japan is known for being one of the safest countries on Earth. There's little to no crime here. Two things, however, are constantly being stolen in Japan: umbrellas and bikes. Dustin has been the victim of umbrella thievery in the past. Ironically, it was stolen right out of his bike. And as of last week, I, too, have been victimized. 

We had a rare early morning meeting, so I stumbled out of bed, dressed, and made my way to the train station slightly after the ungodly hour of 8:00. I parked my bike across the street from my favorite conbini, a spot in which I frequently leave my bike for the days' travels outside of Nagaoka. I went about my incredibly long day (It only included about 5 hours of actual work, but all of those train rides can wear one out.) and came back to the station in Nagaoka around 9:30 to retrieve my bike and make my way home. To my shock and horror, my bike was NOT in the place I had parked it.

Someone is employed to move the bikes around, so that the maximum number of bikes can be parked on the sidewalks leading to the train station. Initially, I thought my bike must have been moved, so I spent about half an hour walking up and down the streets around the train station searching for my bike. I tried my key in any maroon bike that even remotely resembled my beloved bike, but to no avail.

Eventually, I gave up hope in finding it at that particular mo
ment and I went to the koban (police box) to report the bike stolen. The police officer told me that I would need the registration number of my bike to make a report. I went home defeated, looked for the little slip of paper I'd "filed" away somewhere back in October, and had no more luck finding that than I'd had finding my bike. After asking around, I discovered that the store where I'd bought my bike should have the registration number. 

Luckily, I had the receipt for my bicycle, so I went to the store, and with much of Dustin's help, and even more of Dustin's Japanese/English dictionary's help, we conveyed to the customer service department that the bike I'd bought from them on October 26 was stolen, and I'd lost the registration number, and I needed a copy. Everything
 was made much more complicated by the fact that we registered the bike under Dustin's name since he chose that bike before becoming dissatisfied with its lack of manliness and passing it on to a grateful me. Thus, Dustin had to do most of the talking since it was technically his bike. The very helpful staff retrieved all of the registration slips and started looking for one with "Dustin Asby" printed neatly in the boxes provided. There were completed forms for October 25 and October 27, but none for October 26. There was one shady slip for the 26th that was blank, but no one could be sure that was our bike's registration number. I wrote it down anyways and headed back to the koban


A cute little grandpa was behind the counter. He explained that he was a retired policeman volunteering. I pointed to the helpful picture menu of all of the things that could be wrong, and indicated that "It was taken." (It's the little one in the far left corner of the picture above.) He started to help us fill out the stolen goods report. Over the course of nearly two hours, we learned the etymology of several Japanese words and explained the difference between "pavement," "sidewalk," and "concrete." At long last, we thought he understood exactly what we were trying to say and we understood most of what he was trying to say. Dustin had to rush off to catch a train, so I was left to put my fingerprints in all of the places where we'd had to change the form, because of mistakes. Needless to say, that form looked like a pepperoni pizza.

The nice little old grandpa was on the phone with the store that sold me my bike and I was signing my last form. I was getting ready to leave, when my little volunteer policeman came over and said, "This number tabun (maybe) your bike." I said, "Yes. Maybe." I realized I'd forgotten to fully explain that aspect of the registration number and suddenly I felt guilty about not disclosing this information. He repeated "This number tabun your bike. Underhand." At this point, my heart dropped and tears rushed to my eyes. This nice little Japanese (read: normally extremely non-confrontational) man was calling me underhanded. I stumbled over my words in broken Japanese, "Sorry. Excuse me. Yes. Maybe. Bike me maybe. I don't know. Sorry." He looked confused and said, "If we find the bike with this number we will call you. Underhand?" Ah! He was asking if I understand... Embarrassed, I muttered, "Hai. Arigato Gozaimasu," and rushed out suppressing the unwarranted tears.

The fate of my bike was now in the police's hands. Meanwhile, I looked at everyone riding a maroon bike with a mixture of jealously and suspicion. I continued to try my key in any and every maroon bike. That night, armed with the potential registration number, I started to look at numbers printed on the bright green stickers on all of the bikes. Parked about 4 blocks from the last location I'd seen my bike was a maroon bike with this same registration number. I was drawn to that one by a sense of familiarity. I excitedly tried my key in the lock, but it didn't budge. I stepped back and noticed that this bike was missing the little Peppy Kids Club phone jewel I use to distinguish my bike from all of the other identical ones. I walked away disappointed, but something made me turn around and try again. And once more, my key failed. This time, however, I noticed that it was because the lock had been busted. I jimmied it back into place and tried my key again; this time with success. My seat had been lowered all the way down, both tires were pretty low, my bike basket was bashed in, and the phone jewel with which I adorned my bike was no where to be found, but I couldn't have been happier to be reunited with my favorite bike in the world. Apparently, a very short thieve stole my bike for three days, potentially wrecked it, and returned it. I like to think that my bike recognized the intruder and made each ride intentionally dangerous and difficult, so that the thief would be forced to return it to its rightful owner. I went out and bought an extra bike lock for both my bike and Dustin's. In the end, I proved to be a better bike detective than the Nagaoka police force. I will never forget the word for bicycle in Japanese: jidensha.

In other adventures, ohanami (cherry blossom viewing party) was divine. We went south to Takada to have a day long picnic under the falling blossoms with some friends. It was a gorgeous day weatherwise, peoplewise, and flowerwise. We all piled our massive amounts of food and drink in the middle; everyone was eating and drinking all day long. When the food and drinks we'd brought with us started to get low, we took to the streets, which were lined with festival vendors, and bought festival goodies such as pancakes stuffed with eggplant, corn on the cob, and a wide variety of meats on a stick. It was Easter Sunday, so we made sure to honor God by joining a Japanese gospel choir wearing afro wigs in a rendition of "This Little Light of Mine." Be sure to check out the two photo albums of pictures from this magical day of fun.

I must now sign off and begin packing for our Golden Week trip to Kyoto and Osaka. We leave tonight on a night bus for a 9 hour bus trip south where it's sunny and warm! Whoo-hoo! We'll be gone for 7 whole days of glorious vacation. Neither of us have had more than the typical weekend off since Christmas, and we're both more than ready to venture outside of Niigata-ken. I promise to write about it at some point in the future when we return. Happy Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day, and Children's Day!